Entering the Concealed Region
My guides finally condescended to take me to the region that they named 'Hidden Riches', which is a land of many minor settled peoples, and some who roam during the warmer times and huddle around the sources of warmth during the impossibly cold winters of this land. If only they would embrace Solf, their inner flames would keep them hot, but their servitude to the Kargzant spirit or the Ignorant demon suns of Karn Torail keep them in poverty.
After crossing the sand-river we came to a place rugged and barren, before the land became even more broken yet wooded, which put me in mind of our own northern foothills, although the trees are quite different. I was informed that we were now in the land of the KenKen, a people who followed the faith of Karn Torail.
The people of this land are much divided, with most showing little refinement while the king and the priestly caste wear clothing of Dragon Empire origin and are -for the most part - literate. I was advised to avoid any appearance of missionary work, since they do not even tolerate Pentan shamans here. We experienced little welcome, although there was trading to be done. After twenty days we moved on, and upon cresting a rise of the borders of the Hli-Ul I had my first sight of the Hot Lake itself, a wonder in the midst of this parched land.
From the rise I could see cultivated fields stretching towards us, petering out and turning to pasture as the land ascended. The Hli-Ul are relatively prosperous and happy, and without exception follow the religion of Basko, the Black Sun of which I wrote in my volume concerning Karn Torail.
Food is gathered and stored in common, and all the people receive a ration as decided by the High Priest. Remarkably, he eats no more than does the lowliest free member of the kingdom. By contrast they treat their slaves with great cruelty, and they are half-starved at all times.
The Great Keep of Hli-Ul is a poor thing of mud-brick, and although the High Priest rules from here, it is not military might but religious power that keeps the land independent safe.
While we were there, the Rekindling Festival took place. A rough-hewn wooden statue of Basko was placed within a four-wheeled image car, in appearance like a hollow step-pyramid, and wheeled throughout the whole country before coming to rest outside the Great Keep. The car was set alight with much pagan singing and blood-letting, and when the smoke cleared and the embers cooled, a black jade statue of Basko was revealed, transformed by the prayers and dire magics of the priests.
I was told that there was a plan to build a mighty stone pyramid to replace the Great Keep, and the work would be a full eighty years in the doing. Neither on this journey nor my subsequent return did I see any sign that any foundations had been laid.
I was pleasantly welcomed by the High Priest, but he showed no interest in the Great Truths.
After thirty seven days we moved on to another lakeside land, Tse-Huo, which is split from Hli-Ul by a stretch of wooded ravines.
Tse-Huo is as different from the preceding lands as may be imagined. The people are of that Pentan type named Darkusite, a people so fierce they are almost bestial. They were in the midst of what they name their 'Five Year Assembly', and all of their clans were camped along the water's side.
The clan encampments were very colourful, with silk banners and streamers marking every chieftain's and shaman's tent. Although they showed off their ferocity in their Assembly Games, they were surprisingly courteous to us, treating our arrival as a good omen for reasons which remained unexplained.
The Great Khan of the people was in possession of a mighty religious relic, the Skull of Darkus, and the people gathered to venerate it while lashing and cutting themselves. The violence of their Games becoming repulsive, we stayed but eight days before moving on.
Crossing several streams we came into a land inhabited by a people of mixed ancestry, Pentans and Karnites, happily living alongside each other. Their ruler is of the Eyaloran Pentans, and is named
the Beauteous Horseman. Their Great Keep is an extensive warren of stone and mud brick, much adorned with statues and masks of the Karnite demons, but topped with Eyaloran prayer flags.
The Karnites tend rice fields and fish in the streams of the land, while fearing to fish or gather at the lakeside. The Pentans hunt widely over the plains to the south west of the lake.
I had some success interesting some of the Pentans in Solf's Great Truths, but one of their shamans intervened, chastising them with a blazing spirit.
The shamans of this land are many and varied, and have no accepted leaders.
The Beauteous Horseman was actually a pock-faced brute, a drunkard with numerous children.
On my later visit I found the Pentans absent, and was told that there was a contest in progress to determine who would inherit the title now that the old man was dead.
The eastern extremity of the lake is held by the Ochsha, and amongst them I felt truly endangered.
The people are Darkusite and more feral than their Tse-Huon kin to an astonishing degree.
The clan leaders are constantly feuding to see who will hold the title of Jakhan, and skirmishes are a perfectly normal occurrence! The men are naturally hard and greatly given to falsehood, for which they feel no shame, but rather account it a sign of intellect. The women are repulsive, and thankfully obscured from normal view by leather hoods.
They are, however, one of the most devout peoples I have ever met in my travels. Indeed, they sacrificed my horse to Kargzant with great glee, and gave me the roast generative bodies to eat at the subsequent feast.
I did not trouble to revisit them, and gather that their lives remain as they were then.
|A fanciful rendering of Bandelkun Castle in the Zanozar edition|
Bandelkun is a mixed population, Karnite, Eyaloran and Hayar-Anmador Pentan. They are a well organised state, and very martial in their attitudes, brought on not least by their proximity to the Ochsha.
The Castle itself is the most impressive of the fortifications around the lake, although that is a simple thing to achieve! It is built exclusively of stone, faced with white plaster and painted with a variety of curses to ward off attackers. The people are well provided for, with rice, almonds, a variety of fruit and plentiful hunting. If one of the states was too unite all the lands of the Hot Lake, I am sure this would be it. The riders are well armed with lance and bow, their foot with mace and sling, and both are well supplied with heavily quilted armour.
Their Hayar-Anmadoring King is well supplied with counsellors and magicians.
We spent almost sixty days as his guests, talking of all the lands I had visited. When we left, he gifted me with an astounding steed with many magical powers.
The lands between Bandelkun and KenKen on the north side of the lake are waste at the present, although there are clear evidences of previous inhabitation. I have heard much concerning a goddess
of the lake, but I saw neither temple nor shrine dedicated to her alone. However, before we left that region my guides insisted on binding the arms and legs of three of our slaves and throwing them into the waters as a sacrifice.
Such is the savagery of those who I had come to think of with some affection.